The 7 suicide warning signs to look out for, according to an expert
Clinical psychotherapist and psychologist Noosha Anzab, explains the red flags to know, but also how to start a conversation with someone who may self-harm.
Warning: If this story is triggering for you please reach out to a professional immediately for help. In an emergency, please call 000, otherwise call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Suicide is a devastating outcome of mental illness, something that has far reaching effects on those close to the person and the community as a whole. Our most recent statistics show that in 2018, there were 3,046 registered deaths of people who died due to intentional self-harm (suicide) in Australia. What’s more, suicide is the leading cause of death amongst people aged 15-44 in Australia.
These startling stats unfortunately leave a lot of questions unanswered, with many family or friends questioning whether they could have done more to help.
There are some rather obvious and also not-so-obvious signs to watch out for when it comes to determining if someone is really OK, or if they are silently experiencing an emotional rollercoaster.
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#1. If a person becomes withdrawn
One of the biggest signs to look out for is if a person suddenly or gradually becomes withdrawn by isolating him/herself. This would most likely be seen as an out of character trait for that person, something they wouldn’t normally do; however it is important to note that this can happen gradually for people as well.
#2. Avoiding social interactions
Avoiding social interactions or no longer participating in usual activities a person would normally enjoy is also a warning sign. This means that you might notice that a person starts to avoid the things they would normally enjoy or that they stop their regular social exchanges.
#3. High emotions
Excessive tearfulness, a seemingly over-reactions to things, high emotions and an overall “flatness” are also important things to keep an eye out for.
#4. Self-destructive behaviours
Changes in behaviour such as participating in reckless or self-destructive behaviour are also warning signs, as are increased drug and alcohol usage.
#5 Weight loss or weight gain
Extreme weight loss, or weight gain, can be signs that a person is struggling emotionally. Many people can use food as way to try and control things in their life or will emotionally eat to make themselves feel better. The effects of dieting, weight loss or weight gain on mood can increase suicidal ideation and may well increase the risk of suicide.
#6 Changes in sleeping patterns
Changes to sleep patterns, including erratic and irregular sleep habits, insomnia or sleeping too much can all be signs that someone is struggling.
#7 Changes in overall attitude
Sometimes the signs are a lot subtler and can just be a display of a different life attitude that leans more towards despair and negativity, as well as an overall emptiness or loss of lust-for-life.
What to do if you suspect someone might be contemplating suicide
Most of the time, it can be really difficult to open up the conversation of mental health whether it be with our friend, partner, colleague or family. The subject is best approached with caution and care.
Starting the conversation by asking how they have been feeling lately is a great way to start. Perhaps say that you have noticed they have looked a little down lately and that you wanted to see if you might be able to help in any way. It’s important to treat the conversation as a natural topic to talk about and express that everyone go through ups and downs at times, and what they are going through isn’t abnormal or invalid.
Be sure to use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I have noticed some changes latterly” rather that ‘you’ statements which can come across as blaming statements and make them feel isolated and alone.
When reaching out, make sure you let the person know that you are there for support no matter what and if you can’t help, there is always someone who can. Ensure your support is always with an open mind and non-judgmental.
If the person doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you, encourage them to turn to someone else who they might feel more comfortable with. The important thing is to re-iterate that it is completely OK to not feel OK, and there are support networks available to help.
What not to do
Do not choose to talk to a person in times of anger, frustration or when the overall mood is negative. It is important to choose the timing wisely and not broach the topic when someone might be emotionally charged.
Pick a time when you’re both calm and have the time to start an open conversation. Do not choose right before bedtime to start the conversation. Over-thinking loves to visit before we retire for the night and approaching the subject before bed can lead to a high emotional charge and exacerbate sleeplessness.
Choose a time when you are both well rested and not distracted by any particular stress. Do not tell them things like ‘get over it’ or ‘it will pass’ as these statements will only make them feel as though their situation isn’t important or that you aren’t genuinely understanding of what they are going through.
The next steps
If you do establish that a person is not OK, the next steps are to be there for ongoing support and provide some options to the person concerned to seek further help. If the matter is urgent and you are worried that the person might be at harm to themselves or someone else, please call 000 immediately.
For less urgent matters, there are many services available in Australia that a person can turn to. Services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue all provide adequate support by way of free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts.
Lysn also provides access to trained psychologists via phone or video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of their own home. These services can be instrumental in providing the support and strategy needed to get someone back on the right emotional track.
Noosha Anzab is a clinical psychotherapist and psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist online.